January 16, 2012

Review: 'Portlandia' Season 2 – We Can Pickle That!

Season one of Portlandia (read here) stands as a hilariously inventive sketch comedy take on culture with an absurdist, hipster Portland twist. Saturday Night Live player and comedian Fred Armisen continues his strange yet delightful collaboration with Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag rocker Carrie Brownstein.

So far, season 2 further embarks on Portlandia's brand of off the wall, insightful, intelligent humour. I love the sketches shot on location, outdoors with beaming rays of sunlight. It's a refreshing change from studio sets and multiple walls/cameras. There's a heft of production value with choreographed bits and even a Portland parade dedicated to obscure allergies.

Two episodes in and Portlandia continues its strong string of out there comedy sketches based on the loosest of ideas or premises. The show hinges on Armisen and Brownstein's likability and subtle charms. Extending comedic premises far beyond their natural premises is usually a disaster, but here, the way Portlandia lets humour flow from ideas rather than one-liners is refreshing.

Andy Samberg plays a ridiculous bartender, or mixologist rather, in a sketch that escalates to obscene levels including a detour to sunny California. Oddly, the snooty bartender bit extends to three separate segments with enough individual beats to propel an amusing premise above its material.

The much ballyhooed Battlestar Galactica sketch lives up to expectations (this coming from a non-fan of the series) complete with cameos from the cast. It blatantly comments on current television watching and binging digital culture. The structure of scenes throughout an episode lets sketches breathe and reach slow burn punchlines.

Portlandia works best as whole episodes with sketches that weave and are carefully placed to pace out the comedic beats, but stand whole on their own. What I enjoy and remark most from the show is its sense of fun and good natured mockery. The humour is inclusive as the well edited and executed scenes let the comedy breathe.

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